Therapeutic Riding: How Horses Help and Inspire People
Why Therapeutic Riding?
"A canter is a cure for every evil." Benjamin Disraeli
Have you ever witnessed horses running free? Or felt the freedom of riding one of these magnificent creatures at a canter? Their spirits soar with each step they take, and you get to go along for the flight. They lighten our spirit with their strength and require us to live in the moment, right alongside them.
"In riding a horse we borrow freedom." Helen Thomson
Humans have been fascinated by horses for thousands of years. They are revered in mythology and literature from every corner of the world, taking on a magical quality. They are known for their beauty, loyalty, courage and speed. Throughout history the horse has captivated us with her perfect fusion of gentleness and power.
"There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man." Winston Churchill
In therapeutic riding, horses help physically and mentally challenged people achieve things that may seem impossible. They help autistic children make connections and improve communication skills. They lend a person confined to a wheelchair their legs to run through woods. They build confidence in the unsure child and can ease the pain of depression caused by chronic pain. The interaction is beneficial on an emotional, physical and neurological level.
An Overview of Therapeutic Riding and Hippotherapy
Therapeutic Riding and Hippotherapy
Therapeutic riding is an individualized program of restorative and enjoyable activities where riders learn horsemanship skills. These skills translate into improved balance, strength and flexibility for the rider. Studies have shown that riding can cultivate self-confidence and communication skills for children and adults with emotional and psychological disabilities. It is also used to provide those with life-threatening illnesses a reprieve from the pain and depression associated with medical treatment. The riders develop a benficial relationship with their horse through grooming, caring for and getting to know the horse.
"There is no secret so close as that between a rider and his horse." Robert Smith Surtees
Therapeutic Riding Instructors complete a training program accredited by the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA).
The American Hippotherapy Association, Inc., defines hippotherapy as "physical, occupational and speech therapy treatment strategy that utilizes equine movement." The name hippotherapy comes from the Greek root hippo, meaning horse. Hippotherapy is used to improve both gross and fine motor skills as well as cognitive abilities. Sessions are provided by licensed physical, occupational and speech therapists.
"No hour of life is wasted that is spent in a saddle." Winston Churchill
How A Soldier Wounded in Iraq is Using Therapeutic Riding
I saw a child who couldn't walk,
Sit on a horse, laugh and talk.
Then ride through a field of daisies
and yet, he couldn't walk unaided.
I saw a child, no legs below,
sit on a horse and make it go
through woods of green
and places he had never been
to sit and stare, except from a chair.
I saw a child who couldn't crawl
mount a horse and sit up tall.
Put it through degrees of paces
and laugh at the wonder in our faces.
I saw a child born into strife,
Take up and hold the reins of life
and that same child, I heard him say
Thank God for showing me the way...
by John Anthony Davies
How to Find a Therapeutic Riding Center in your Area
This is the best place to start. The NARHA maintains a listing of all Accredited Centers in North America, and explains the importance of working with instructors that a certified.
You can also search internationally at Federation of Riding for the Disabled international.
How You Can Get Involved in Therapeutic Riding
Are you inspired to experience the magic of the horse / human connection firsthand? Many therapeutic riding centers depend on a team of volunteers to keep their programs running. If there is a center in your area that offers this service, you may be able to spend time with horses and see how they can help a wide array of people.
Training is usually provided by the facility. Volunteer positions may include:
- Walker - walk alongside the horse to ensure the safety of the person riding, or leading the the horse on a designated path
- Groom- Cleaning, brushing and preparing the horse before a session and caring for the horse after, sometimes with the help of the rider
To find a center in your area, search for volunteer positions at Network for Good.
The work may be hard and you will definitely get your hands dirty (your boots too) but the rewards will be amazing!
"The wind of heaven is that which blows between a horses ears." Arabian Proverb